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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Ducks skated at Honda Center on Friday. The Leafs held a limited media availability Friday night. 

What stands out about Auston Matthews?

"What doesn't?" said Anaheim Ducks defenceman Michael Del Zotto. "He's one of the best players in the league. Specifically, as a defenceman, you have him off the rush and you think you have the angle or you have stick on puck and he's able to pull the puck two or three feet to get in a shooting lane and more often than not it's a minus and in the back of the net. He's a special player."

Matthews has 46 goals on the season, third in the league, and often earns praise from opponents for his offensive wizardry. But when Brendan Shanahan held a rare and impromptu media session on Thursday, the Leafs president chose to highlight the defensive potential his franchise's No. 1 centre possesses. Shanahan called Matthews "one of those rare players who has the ability to lead a league in scoring and also be its best defensive player."

"I read that," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf with a smile. “He’s a great player, there's no doubt about it. He's been very successful in this league at scoring goals and I think that (defensive) part of his game is being developed. And, obviously, I don't see him enough to really comment on whether he's a top defensive forward, but Brendan is trying to send a ​message to him that he's got to play both ends of the rink all the time and has the capability of doing it."

How hard is it to be an elite defensive player and still produce big offensive numbers? 

"That's the art that's hard to come by," said Getzlaf, who is on pace to lead the Ducks in points for the ninth time in his career. "You're probably not going to be the best two-way forward scoring 50 goals a year, but he's a player that has capabilities of doing that and the more he rounds out his game the more comfortable he'll be with it, I'm sure."

Shanahan also reflected yesterday on how hard it is to take the leap in today's NHL as a team. Getzlaf, who won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, believes defensive maturity is a big part of making the jump. 

"You have to play both ends of the rink all the time and then consistency is the difference when you're talking about great teams," he said. "They (great teams) play the same way every night, every shift and have the ability to turn it up when they need to." 


While the Matthews line has been humming along pretty well of late, the John Tavares line has been more up and down. Head coach Sheldon Keefe is struggling to find the right player to slot in beside Tavares and William Nylander. It was Pierre Engvall who got the first look last night in Los Angeles before being replaced by Denis Malgin for the final 40 minutes. 

"It really felt to me like the Tavares line was going to be the difference makers for us," Keefe said after the 1-0 shootout loss. "I thought this was the best game John's played in a while. Willy played really well. We made the change to put Malgin on the line and they really started to go. They really changed the game for us in the second period and really got things going for us, because they (Kings) didn't really have much of an answer for them."

Keefe pointed out that the Kings hold their blueline better than anyone in the league, but still couldn't handle Nylander. 

"Just the way that he commanded the puck," Keefe said when asked what made the 23-year-old effective, "the way he skated through the neutral zone against a team that makes it really hard to get through the neutral zone. When he had it, he seemed to pick them apart. In the offensive zone he was on the puck, he was cutting back, attacking the net, it seemed like he had a guy on his back for a lot of the game and it didn't faze him and he got opportunities. They didn't go in for him, but I liked how he worked." 

Nylander fired nine shots on net matching his career high set earlier this season in Florida (Jan. 12).  

The Leafs have only managed two goals in two games on the California trip and there's an obvious way they can spark some offence. 

"Power play is the first thing," said Keefe. "Like, power play has got to be lethal for us and with the type of talent we have it should be and it has been for quite some time, but it’s gone dry a little bit here. We have to have that be a difference maker for us."

Toronto was 0-for-3 on the man advantage Thursday night and is now 0-for-11 over the last four games. 

The Ducks penalty kill is ranked 25th (77 per cent) and allowed two goals (both by Tavares) to Toronto in a 5-4 overtime loss last month. 

"We don't want to see the power play," cautioned Ducks coach Dallas Eakins. "We just don't want to see it come over the boards. It can be highly, highly dangerous and they haven't cracked on it a whole lot lately, but the chances they're getting are A-plus and eventually those go in the net."

Anaheim has allowed six power-play goals against in the last five games, including two on Wednesday in Colorado. 


Another reason the Leafs offence is lacking some punch right now is all the injuries on defence. Morgan Rielly (foot), Cody Ceci (ankle) and Jake Muzzin (hand) have all been out of the lineup. 

"Missing the defence that we are, a lot of the emphasis is on how it affects us defensively, but it affects you offensively, too," Keefe said. "So, a lot of things are happening differently for us at the offensive blueline ... and that’s stalling us a bit offensively."

Earlier this week, Keefe said none of the injured players were expected back this week, but the team activated Ceci off the injured reserve Friday.

Ceci returns to the Leafs lineup after missing 14 games with a high ankle sprain. 

"Initially, coming into this trip, we weren't thinking about him playing at all in any of these games, but he's responded very well to both the full team practices we've had and the extra work he's done and the medical staff and Cody feel ready to go," Keefe said.

Ceci, who sustained the injury on Feb. 5, will be paired with Calle Rosen, who replaces Rasmus Sandin in the lineup.

Timothy Liljegren has been loaned to the AHL Toronto Marlies.

"With their D beat up right now and some inexperienced guys, our forecheck is going to be our key, which it typically is most nights for us," noted Del Zotto. "So, if we can get on the forecheck, have success in their zone we should be all right tonight."

"The key's going to be to really try to jam up their speed," said Eakins. "We do want to get after their back end. I thought we had some success in their building with really forechecking them hard." 


Jack Campbell returned from a 17-day layoff and looked pretty sharp in San Jose on Tuesday night giving a lacklustre Leafs team a chance to win. But Campbell fell on his sword after allowing four goals on 37 shots saying he felt like the loss was on him even though the sentiment around the room was he played pretty well. 

"Yeah, I mean, 'Pretty well' for me isn't good enough," Campbell said last night. "So, I’m just looking forward. I had good practices and I know the boys are playing well."

Campbell is aiming for his first win in Anaheim (0-3-0, .867 save percentage), but the ex-King feels comfortable playing in California. 

"This place is a special state, you know, playing with L.A.," he noted. "We've always had good games there with L.A. and the Ducks so just trying to continue that trend."

John Gibson starts for the Ducks. He's 1-3-1 with a .906 save percentage in his career against the Leafs. 


The Ducks are also dealing with some injuries on defence, but still managed to upset the Avalanche in overtime on Wednesday in Denver despite playing on consecutive nights.

"Our guys dug in and I thought it started with Getzy right off the bat," said Eakins referencing the Ducks captain. "He dragged us right into the fight and the guys jumped in from there."

Josh Manson and Erik Gudbranson are both sidelined with upper-body injuries, but both were able to skate this morning. Their status for tonight's game is up in the air. 

"Like always, when you see them back out with the team, that means they’re getting close," said Eakins. "But I’m not sure either one of them are through the woods yet."​

"I'm feeling a lot better," said Manson, who got hurt on Tuesday, "so it’s something we’ll talk about with the coaching staff and medical staff and go from there."